Brian Mann | KGOU
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Brian Mann

Late in Patrick Radden Keefe's brutal, multigenerational treatment of the Sackler family, Empire of Pain, he offers a jarring anecdote.

It's 2019. The scandal surrounding OxyContin, Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers' role in America's devastating opioid epidemic is front-page news. Hundreds of people are dying every day from overdoses.

But Joss Sackler, a designer and businesswoman married to David Sackler (who had left Purdue Pharma's board a year earlier) is busy in New York City hustling up a crowd for her spring fashion line.

Drug deaths spiked dramatically during a period that includes the first six months of the pandemic, up roughly 27% compared with the previous year, the acting head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said Thursday.

"We lost 88,000 people in the 12-month period ending in August 2020," Regina LaBelle told reporters during a morning briefing. "Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and synthetic opioids are the primary drivers of this increase."

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Imagine you're part of a project that goes horribly wrong at work, causing a scandal, costing your company a ton of money, maybe even putting people at risk. Now imagine after that kind of performance your company rewards you with a raise and a bonus.

Critics say that's happening right now with CEOs at big drug and health care companies tangled up in the opioid crisis.

"When leadership fails ... the board of directors have to be willing to hold their executives accountable," said Shawn Wooden, Connecticut's state treasurer.

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Updated March 24, 2021 at 4:25 PM ET

Federal bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain extended an injunction on lawsuits against members of the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, until April 21.

Drain made the ruling Wednesday from his court in White Plains, N.Y., while urging parties to move swiftly to hash out a final deal over the future of the embattled drug company.

Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin, conducted what may be the most extensive investigation yet of the Sackler family, exploring whether they committed crimes or financial improprieties, but the company has kept most of its findings secret.

Under a bankruptcy plan filed late Monday night, Purdue Pharma would pay roughly $500 million in cash up front to settle hundreds of thousands of injury claims linked to the company's role in the deadly opioid epidemic.

The company said additional payments would be spread over the next decade, including installments on roughly $4.2 billion promised by members of the Sackler family who own the firm.

When the pandemic hit, visits to hospital emergency departments plummeted by more than 40%. People were scared of catching the coronavirus.

But Kristin Holland, a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found patients experiencing drug-related crises needed help so desperately they kept coming.

"All overdoses and opioid overdoses...those were the only two [categories] for which we saw an increase," Holland said.

Four of America's biggest healthcare companies are close to a $26 billion settlement for their role making and distributing highly addictive opioid medications.

But critics in Congress say corporate tax breaks could slash the value of the deal by more than $4 billion.

"If they get away with it, that means less money going into the treasury, less money for programs that would help deal with the fallout for the opioid crisis," said Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA).

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When Latoya Jenkins talks about her mom, she likes to focus on happy memories like the games she used to play with her kids.

"She used to buy two bottles of dish soap," Jenkins said. "One bottle was for the dishes. The other bottle was for rainy days. She would take us outside and we would make bubbles."

Jenkins, who lives in upstate New York, says her mom, Sonya Hughey, had a hard life, first using crack cocaine when she was a teenager.

People in Saranac Lake, NY have been building massive palaces out of ice since 1898. It's a folk art that requires a lot of caution and tolerance for bitter cold.

As the nation's addiction crisis deepened, Tamara Beetham, who studies health policy at Yale University, set out to answer a simple question: What happens when people try to get help?

Her first step was to create a kind of undercover identity — a 26-year-old, using heroin daily. Using this fictional persona, her research team called more than 600 residential treatment centers all over the country.

"We'd kind of call and say, I'm looking to, you know, start treatment and kind of go from there," Beetham said.

Erie County, N.Y., district attorney John Flynn said Thursday that a grand jury proceeding has cleared two police officers accused of assaulting a 75-year-old protester last summer.

The incident occurred in Buffalo on June 4 during a Black Lives Matter demonstration.

Officials in New York say they're working to overcome resistance to the coronavirus vaccine in the Black and Latino communities, while also trying to make doses more readily available.

New state data released Friday showed many Black New Yorkers aren't taking the vaccine even when it's offered free of charge.

Only 39% of Black New Yorkers said they'd take the vaccine as soon as it was available to them, according to the state data. Hispanic New Yorkers were somewhat less hesitant, at 54%.

Updated at 6:30 p.m. ET

President Biden named more of the team that will tackle the addiction crisis on Wednesday while promising a series of policy actions in the first 100 days.

The announcement comes as overdose deaths surge to record levels, topping 81,000 fatalities over the past 12 months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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